It’s Raining Ninjas

May 28, 2010

This is a guest rant by Nick Mann

It’s Raining Ninjas, My Sassy Vampire, and other Ill-advised Forays by Korean Film Talents into International Markets

Ninja Assassin

I think it’s appropriate to call myself a fierce promoter of Korean cinema.  Certainly with my ongoing essays of Korean Films to Watch Before You Die (here – 1 2 3 4 5 6) and more casually in discussion with friends open to world cinema, I’m just trying to get the word out on a nation that isn’t widely recognized for their recent accomplishments in the world of film.  Just watch any of the movies recommended on this site and I hope you’ll find an energy that seems to be missing from Hollywood productions these days.

But it seems someone in a position of power is deliberately sabotaging the international reputation of Korean film and undoing all my good work.  How else do you explain these international projects with Korean talent…?

Ninja AssassinRain (or Bi) the Asian pop sensation made his Hollywood debut in a supporting role in the Wachowski Brothers’ spectacle Speed Racer.  The brothers must have seen something in the Asian star, as a year later he appeared in a vehicle of his own, which the brothers produced. Ninja Assassin had a brief and inauspicious run in North American theatres but by all outward appearances this was a B-movie.  It opens with an… interpretation… of a Yakuza hangout and some Asian American actors doing terrible impersonations of Japanese gangsters (“Are you disrespecting me, old man?”) The story never elevates much from there, as some U.N. officials try to get information on a secret sect of assassins of which Rain is a member.

It frustrates me to see that even in this era we need ridiculous plot-lines in order to insert western characters into movies with predominantly Asian casts.  I think it’s called Roper Syndrome.

Blood: The Last Vampire:  While Rain appeared in what should have been a straight-to-video movie, Jun Ji-hyun’s* international debut actually was, and rightly so. A bad story is made worse by the fact that Jun’s ass-kicking vampire in a school girl uniform is sidelined through much of the movie by the pointless white girl who gets dragged into the age-old battle between good and evil.  The CGI demons are laughably bad and the fight scenes are all cut up to make it clear they didn’t have the coin for quality stunts or choreography.

G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra: Lee Byung-hun took the international filmmaking plunge with the role of Storm Shadow.  You know what, I never even saw this movie, but maybe it’s good. <sarcasm>A good adaptation of a cartoon from the eighties, inspired to market action figures and directed by the guy who brought the world The Mummy franchise.</sarcasm>

D-War: This was apparently the Korean industry’s big break into the international market… Though it was produced in Korea it featured a cast of predominantly western, talentless actors and it’s a story about gigantic CGI dragons destroying civilization as we know it.

The D-War disaster is easy to interpret.  They saw a bunch of shit Hollywood movies like Transformers, X-Men** and The Day After Tomorrow and figured, “we can do that”. What confounds me is why there hasn’t been a more aggressive push in promoting true quality films.  For example The Good, The Bad, The Weird opened two years late in North America and when it did open as far as I can tell not a single theatre in Canada screened it and it was featured on only a couple screens in L.A. and New York.  I don’t know enough about distribution to speculate on the topic; perhaps it has more to do with decisions made in N. America, but I don’t get it.

The actors taking silly roles described above are peculiar too. I mean, they’re not young or struggling to establish themselves – they’re Korea’s cream of the crop.

I admire the international aspirations that the Korean film industry is apparently fostering of late, but if the examples above are any indication, they’re going about it all wrong.  If they need a North American consultant they can please contact this site and David will discuss my fee.

Blood: The Last Vampire

(* ‘Gianna’ is apparently her international moniker, but I refuse to call her that because it’s too ridiculous.  Who does she think she is – Cher? Madonna?)

(** The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not represent the official position of this blog. Transformers and X-Men were not shit.David)



  1. I actually wanted to see Ninja Assassin for a good while.That screenshot above was used to promote the film early on and it’s overwhelming bad-assery really sold me on the film initially. Everything I’ve heard about it has not been good, though.

    Blood: The Last Vampire was originally an anime. I saw that but it was only 30 mins long or something, felt like an episode in a larger story. Some impressive animation but little incentive to check out a full motion adaptation.

  2. I very consciously included Transformers in that list just to see what you would do, David. Your sense of nostalgia will forever blind you to the truth about that film. As for X-men, I agree it wasn’t shit, exactly. I was going to use Spider-man 3 or X-men 3 as my third example, but I thought using a sequel as an example undermined the point.

    And speaking of shitty movies, I watched G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra after this was written. Though my description of the film was apt, Lee Byung-hun came off looking not bad, considering what he had to work with. Actually the plot was eerily similar to “Team America”.

  3. If they were going to make a live-action Transformers, that film is as good an end result as one could expect. That’s the whole point of my position. How much better could a film about warring robots from outer space that change into trucks and jets actually be? How can you expect anything more from Transformers, given the basic premise?

    I still haven’t seen G.I. Joe but, admittedly, if I was more into that franchise as a kid than I was into Transformers, I’d probably be on here rigorously defending it.

    You can see an interview with Lee Byung-hun on YouTube at a premiere of G.I. Joe and his English is excellent. I used to show it to my students as a kind of example of “here’s how good you can get”. I hear he also speaks Italian. Sexy.

  4. Haha! This Transformers topic has the beginnings of a flame war written all over it. I have a hundred things I would have done differently with ‘a film about warring robots’ however the fact my only film credentials are the monthly essays about Korean films I write for this site shows that my tastes and those of mass audiences couldn’t be more divergent. My concept for Transformers would have failed miserably. Still, I respect almost all of your opinions on film and that’s why your stance on Transformers baffles me because it is very different from my own. I agree to disagree on this and only bring it up to push your buttons.

    Also, on the topic of G.I. Joe… Here’s a tidbit you may or may not be aware and could possibly intrigue you: the evil C.E.O./terrorist/bad guy in that film… Scottish. Perhaps even Glaswegian, though not sure based on accent.

    Finally, brilliant use of pop culture in the classroom, featuring an English interview with Lee. Makes me want to learn English.

  5. Ah, yeah, Christopher Eccleston played Destro in G.I. Joe. He’s actually from the north of England, just a very skilled English actor that can pull off a Scottish accent (see also his role in Shallow Grave where he played a Scottish guy).

  6. Ah, I know backing Transformers is controversial, but I continue to do so just to push others buttons in turn.
    I’m even beginning to retrospectively “like” the way Michael Bay pisses on everybody when he makes something as crazy as Transformers 2, like some kind of hundred-million dollar Andy Kaufman prank.

  7. Right… could you imagine going on vacation with Mike Bay? It would be like, “Isn’t Ankor wat beautiful?” and he’d say, “Yeah!! But just imagine if like some disaster happened and it all blew up! I mean like, really blew up, with rocks flying a hundred feet and crushing tourists. And like flames and smoke and people are running. That would make it even better cuz now it’s just kind of sitting here but if it blew up… dude!”

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